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Republican debate: rivals land solid punches on Donald Trump

26 February

US presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz launched their first full-scale attack against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump during last night's televised debate from Texas.

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With the crucial Super Tuesday primaries just days away, both senators did their best to discredit the billionaire businessman, who is currently the bookies' favourite to secure the party's nomination.

Immigration dominated the discussion, as expected, with Rubio quickly rounding on Trump for employing foreign workers in his Florida resorts.

"My mom was a maid at a hotel and, instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over 1,000 people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead," he said.

The senator also alluded to reports that Trump hired undocumented Polish builders. "You're the only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally."

Cruz added: "Mr Trump struts around the ring now but he wasn't pushing the issue even a few years ago, when a reform bill was being debated in Congress.

"Where was Donald?" he added. "He was firing Dennis Rodman on Celebrity Apprentice."

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One of the most memorable lines of the night came from Rubio. "If he hadn't inherited $2m, you know where Donald trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan," he quipped.

He went on to offer a gleeful parody of his rival: "'Everyone’s dumb, I’m going to make America great again, I'm winning in the polls'".

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Trump hit back in typical fashion, mocking Cruz for news reports that "nobody" likes him, attacking Rubio for "sweating too much" and repeatedly shouting: "Liar. Liar."

Feeling somewhat left out of the debate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at one point piped up: "Can somebody attack me?"

Too little, too late?

"One rule of thumb so far has been that no matter how Trump performs during these debates, it doesn't seem to hurt him," says the Atlantic's David Graham.

The BBC's Anthony Zurcher warns the attack from Rubio and Cruz came too late in the game. "The best time to bludgeon a candidate is before it's clear circumstances are forcing you to act," he says. "Both Cruz and Rubio drew blood with their attacks, but Trump will likely emerge unbowed."

As predicted, Team Trump was unfazed.

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Is Super Tuesday Donald Trump's for the taking?

23 February

While Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump looks set for a third win in a row in today's Nevada caucus, all eyes are on next week's Super Tuesday.

Eleven states - Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming – will vote on 1 March in a crucial day in the presidential race.

"Should [Trump] sweep the board in Super Tuesday he would, if not out of sight, be in complete control of the race," says the Daily Telegraph's US correspondent David Millward.

The billionaire businessman has already won over hearts and minds in New Hampshire and South Carolina and seems likely to further cement his front-runner status next week.

"Super Tuesday looks like it is setting up very well for Trump," Tom Bevan, the executive editor at Real Clear Politics, told MSNBC.

"Where are these other candidates going to win? And if they don't, the story on Tuesday night is going to be: Donald Trump wins big. Maybe even sweeps," he added.

According to the most recent polling, Trump holds solid leads in eight of the states, although, as The New Republic points out, some of the numbers are outdated. "Still, if you were hoping for a Trump flameout, you might be waiting at least a few more months," it says.

One of the main exceptions is thought to be Texas: Senator Ted Cruz has long been expected to dominate in his home state.

But even that now appears to be in doubt. While Cruz is still the favourite to win in the Lone Star State, it may not be as easy or resounding a victory as he would like, says the Texas Tribune.

"Half dozen Texas-based GOP strategists uniformly cited billionaire Donald Trump as Cruz's biggest threat at home," it added.

Donald Trump v The Pope: who came out on top?

19 February

Pope Francis has said US presidential hopeful Donald Trump is "not a Christian" due to his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian," said the pontiff, during an in-flight press conference as he returned to Rome after a six-day tour of Mexico.

Trump, who was raised a Presbyterian, was quick to fire back, saying that "if and when the Vatican is attacked by Isis", the Pope would have "wished and prayed" the billionaire businessman had been president as it "would not have happened" with him in the White House.

He added: "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."

However, speaking later at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump softened his attack. "I have a lot of respect for the Pope," he said. "He has a lot of personality and I think he's doing a very good job. He has a lot of energy."

Pope Francis himself insisted he was not seeking to persuade the US of which way to vote.

"As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that," he said. "I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that."

Trump's swift reaction was necessary to protect his campaign, says the BBC's Jon Sopel. "In God-fearing South Carolina, the next state to vote in the primary process, to have the Pope say that he is unchristian is potentially very damaging."

While "turning the other cheek is not [Trump's] style", says Sopel, issuing a writ to the Vatican is not a course of action his lawyers would recommend. "We're talking about the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the Bishop of Rome, the successor to St Peter, the vicar of Jesus Christ, the Holy Father."

Nevertheless, Sopel points out that the US's Catholic population is nothing like as influential as the Christian evangelicals and Trump "is a man who has made a habit of defying political gravity".

Tim Stanley at the Daily Telegraph agrees. "The kind of Americans backing Trump won't care that he's had an argument with a Pope they brand a 'Social Justice Warrior,'" he says. "In short, this fight won't hurt Trump. If anything, the fact that a Pope is commenting on him affirms his frontrunner status."

Donald Trump accuses Ted Cruz of 'stealing' Iowa caucus

04 February

Donald Trump has blamed his defeat in the Iowa caucus on "fraud" committed by his Republican rival Ted Cruz.

After leading the opinion polls for months, Trump's presidential campaign was wounded when Texas senator Cruz beat him by four points in the first electoral test on Monday.

The billionaire businessman has now called for a new election in the state or for the results to be nullified "based on the fraud committed by senator Ted Cruz":

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Trump has accused his rival of stealing the vote and said he should be disqualified for cheating. According to the New York Times, he is basing his claim on reports that Cruz's aides circulated a false story that fellow Republican White House hopeful Ben Carson had suspended his campaign during the voting, with the implication that some would-be Carson voters were swayed towards Cruz instead.

Cruz dismissed the accusations as "yet another Trumpertantrum" and later warned that a man with Trump's temperament did not belong anywhere near the nuclear "button".

"We're liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark. That's not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe," he said at a news conference in New Hampshire.

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US presidential race: did Trump win TV debate without even showing up?

29 January

Did Donald Trump win last night's Republican Party TV debate without even showing up? Some commentators feel the would-be president's smartest move yet was refusing to take part in the latest round of televised discussions with his rival candidates.

The frontrunner pulled out of the Fox News show because he felt host Megyn Kelly would treat him "unfairly".

According to Fox, Trump demanded that the presenter be replaced and their refusal led him to pull out. Instead, he held his own TV event nearby - a rally at which he raised money for war veterans.

The billionaire businessman may have been "the elephant not in the room", as Kelly dubbed him, but he still made his presence felt. Time magazine counted 16 mentions of his name throughout the debate.

Trump's decision was a "high-risk gamble" depriving him of his last chance to speak to Iowa voters, says Time, but it may have paid off: despite being absent, he was the star of the show.

Vox doesn't see it as such a gamble as appearing in these debates is "risky" for a frontrunner, it says. Candidates with big leads in the polls have "sought to wriggle out of debating without looking like cowards or risking a slip into obscurity for years".

Trump would have risked "gaffeing or otherwise screwing up in a costly way" while standing to gain very little if he was successful, adds Vox. And this was a victory because the other candidates still refused to take him seriously.

Instead of turning on Trump in his absence, they "stabbed each other" in a "war of all against all" while the property mogul stayed magnificently removed.

Richard Wolffe, in The Guardian, considers Trump to be the "clear winner". The debate was the last ahead of the Iowa primary election and Ted Cruz is the only candidate who "could come close to beating" him, he says.

But Cruz quickly began to "wilt" as the other candidates turned on him instead of Trump, falling back on complaining about "mean questions" and making an "underwhelming" joke about walking out, adds Wolffe.

As for Trump, he tried to win some kudos by pledging $1m (£700,000) of his own money to war veterans last night. As Vox points out, this is a very small fraction of his $4.5bn (£3.1bn) estimated fortune.

And the gesture was slightly undermined when some veterans' groups refused it because they didn't want to be "used for political stunts".

Donald Trump to boycott next Republican TV debate

27 January

Donald Trump has announced he will boycott the next TV debate between the Republican presidential hopefuls as his feud with Fox News deepens. It will be the last debate before the crucial Iowa primary.

According to The Guardian, the decision came after debate hosts Fox News released a press release that frontrunner Trump considered derogatory.

Mocking the businessman's complaint that Fox treats him "unfairly", the statement teased: "We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president."

It went on to suggest that Trump might find it easier, if he made it to the White House, to replace his cabinet with fans from Twitter.

Damning it as a "wise-guy press release", the billionaire announced he would skip Thursday's debate altogether.

"They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else," he added.

The press release is the latest exchange in a war of words between Fox and Trump, which began after the first Republican debate the channel hosted in August. Specifically, the businessman's beef is with news anchor Megyn Kelly, says the New York Times.

Kelly's introduction to her first question to Trump in August set the tone of their bruising encounter: "Mr Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don't use a politician's filter.

"However, that is not without its downsides – in particular when it comes to women. You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals."

After the debate, Trump laid into the TV presenter, telling CNN's Don Lemon she was out to get him. "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever," he said, doing little to quell accusations of misogyny.

"This is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom [Trump] has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage," said Fox, in a statement this week.

Trump seems to have demanded that Kelly be replaced as debate host and when Fox News refused, decided to cut his losses and bail out of what could have been a damaging encounter.

On her programme on Tuesday night, Kelly said: "What's interesting here is Trump is not used to not controlling things, as the chief executive of a large organisation. But the truth is, he doesn't get to control the media."

Trump's absence from the Fox studio on Thursday night is good news for his rival Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator had not polled high enough to be invited to the debate but received a call after the businessman pulled out.

And Trump's other rivals were quick to make political capital out of his decision, with Jeb Bush tweeting him to say: "Do you know who else is scared of tough qs from Fox & @megynkelly? Barack Obama. Enough whining."

Republican race: Sarah Palin backs Donald Trump

20 January

Former US vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin has become the first current or former state-wide elected official to endorse Republican Donald Trump in his bid to become president.

Taking to the stage with the billionaire at a campaign rally in Iowa yesterday, the former governor of Alaska delivered a "raucous speech full of Palin-isms during her return to the presidential campaign trail", says CNN, in a reference to her propensity to "ramble" and go off-script at public events. Her speech was filled with phrases such as "pussy-footin'", "hallelujah" and "you betcha".

"[Trump's] been going rogue left and right. That's why he's doing so well," she told the crowd.

Her support comes as a blow to Trump's closest rival, Senator Ted Cruz, who is neck and neck with the billionaire in pre-caucus polling. Next month's vote in Iowa is the first opportunity for Republicans to express their views on which candidate they want in the race for the White House.

Palin, who ran for vice-president in the 2008 election, is a hugely divisive figure in US politics but still carries a lot of influence among conservative voters.

Her support for Trump "is the highest-profile backing for a Republican so far", says the New York Times, which adds that it came "the same day that Iowa's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, said he hoped that Senator Ted Cruz would be defeated in Iowa".

The endorsement has, typically, not gone smoothly for Palin's family, which has a history of behind-the-scenes dramas. The night before her appearance in Iowa, her 26-year-old son Track was arrested on domestic violence charges, reports NBC news. He allegedly attacked his girlfriend while drunk at the family home in Alaska and then threatened her with an AR-15 automatic rifle.

Trump v Cruz: who won the Republican debate?

15 January

US Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz dominated last night's televised debate in South Carolina with a heated exchanged that signalled the end of their political friendship.

"The much-anticipated Trump vs. Cruz showdown took a few minutes to materialize — but when it did, it packed a punch," says CNN.

The billionaire property tycoon and the Texas senator had previously enjoyed a good-natured relationship. However, narrowing polls prompted Trump last night to declare their "bromance over".

The businessman holds more than a ten-point lead in the national polls but is running neck-and-neck with Cruz in Iowa, where voting for the Republican presidential candidate begins in less than three weeks.

"After tip-toeing around each other for months as they compete for the ultra-conservative vote, they finally let their mutual disdain emerge," says The Guardian.

Canadian-born Cruz, who has an American mother, was forced to defend his eligibility to enter the White House after repeated accusations from his rival that legally, he might be unable to serve. The US constitution says the president has to be a "natural born" citizen.

"I'm glad we are focusing on the important topics of the evening," the Harvard-educated lawyer said, before adding that the "facts are really quite clear" that his place of birth did not exclude him.

"The constitution hasn't changed – but the poll numbers have. And I recognise that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa," he said.

Cruz then launched his own offensive, attacking Trump's liberal "New York values". Asked what that meant, he replied, to cheers from the crowd: "I think most people know what New York values are… not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan."

Trump hit back with an emotional tirade on the city's response to the terrorist attacks of 2001. "We fought and fought. Everyone in the world loved New York. I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made," he said.

The fighting left the five other candidates watching on helplessly from the sidelines, said pundits.

"[It] sucked much of the oxygen out of the debate, causing frustration among the others," said The Guardian. "At one point, Marco Rubio blurted out, 'I hate to interrupt this episode of 'Court TV'".

Who was the overall winner?

"I think Cruz won, thanks to how strong he was especially at the beginning, taking on Trump over the citizenship nonsense. Good close, too," tweeted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

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But Guy Benson, political editor of Townhall, believed Trump had won "some key exchanges".

Liberal commentators, however, thought otherwise. "Trump is still a jerk who will make America great again by making bombastic statements with little relationship to reality," said The Guardian's Megan Carpentier.

Nevertheless, she had little sympathy for his opponent. "Ted Cruz is the college debater who knows how to condescend and over-explain his errors until you don't care that he made them as long as he stops talking," she said

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, summed up her reaction with a single tweet – and a gif of herself.

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Obama takes aim at Trump in final State of the Union address

13 January

US President Barack Obama used his seventh and final State of the Union address to launch a thinly-veiled attack against presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Though he did not mention the Republican frontrunner by name, Obama made a clear reference to the businessman in his condemnation of politicians who "target people because of race or religion" and the growing rhetoric against Muslims and refugees.

"When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalised or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals and it betrays who we are as a country," he said.

Trump responded in typical fashion, tweeting the speech was "the most boring, rambling and non-substantive I have heard in a long time" and calling for "new leadership fast".

Liberal pundits have also warned Obama's words could bolster the property tycoon's campaign. "On the face of things, these are insults that should hurt his standing. But of course, there's nothing Trump wants more than to be seen as Obama's worst nightmare," Dylan Matthews writes for Vox.

He argues that the comments solidify Trump as a "de facto leader" of the Republican party, adding: "That's a rather large compliment to pay Trump."

The deepening divisions between Obama and his rivals formed part of his address, with the President calling the increased polarisation one of the few regrets of his time in the White House. "The rancour and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," he said.

However, he offered an upbeat assessment of the current economic situation and rejected accusations it is faltering, saying: "Anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction."

He also laid out specific goals for his final year in office, which included closing the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, leading the global fight against climate change and lifting the embargo on Cuba.

He concluded: "[We are] optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That's what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you."

Overall, Obama's final State of the Union speech struck a distinctly positive note, offering an optimistic view of the US's future. It was a speech "meant to cement his legacy and set a positive tone for his final year in office," says Reuters.

Donald Trump praises Kim Jong-un's leadership

11 January

Donald Trump has found himself at the centre of yet another controversy after appearing to praise the North Korean leadership during a campaign speech in Iowa.

The Republican frontrunner told crowds that although the communist country's Kim Jong-un had executed many of his political rivals, he deserved credit for his actions.

"I mean, he's like a maniac, OK, and you gotta give him credit," Trump said. "How many young guys… take over these tough generals? You know, it's pretty amazing when you think about it."

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He continued: "It's incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one - this guy doesn't play games and we can't play games with him."

Kim has ordered the execution of a number of political rivals, including his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was shot dead in 2013 after a military tribunal found him guilty of "attempting to overthrow the state".

Jang's execution was seen as the most significant in a series of bloody purges carried out by Kim since he inherited power from his father in December 2011.

Trump's comments come just days after North Korea claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb at an underground test site, sparking a furious response from South Korea and its US allies.

The presidential hopeful appears to have made a habit of praising leaders at odds with Washington. Last month, he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a man who is "highly respected within his own country and beyond".

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